Family sues Colo.  nursing home after woman walked out and froze to death

Family sues Colo. nursing home after woman walked out and froze to death


Mary Jo Staub screamed last February as she pounded her hands on the glass outside the Colorado assisted-living center where she lived, according to surveillance footage cited in a lawsuit.

Standing in freezing temperatures, the 97-year-old banged on the doors, waiting for someone to unlock them.

Staub had been in the cold for an hour when she collapsed to the concrete, according to the lawsuit filed last week.

By the time an employee at the center spotted her and called police, more than five hours had passed since Staub wandered outside after midnight, the lawsuit says. She was dead.

Now, her family is suing the assisted-living center—Balfour at Lavender Farms in Louisville, Colo. — along with its chief executive and the two employees who worked overnight the day Staub died. Filed on Jan. 17 in Boulder County District Court, the complaint’s allegations include felonious killing and negligence resulting in wrongful death.

Balfour Senior Living, which operates the center, did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post. The Post was unable to reach the employees named as defendants in the complaint.

Attorneys from Hailey Hart PLLC, who are representing the family, said in a statement Tuesday that Staub’s life was “tragically cut short.”

“Assisted-living facilities are supposed to provide protective oversight for our elderly loved ones,” the statement said. “The Staub family wants to ensure this doesn’t happen to any other member of this vulnerable population.”

Elaine McManis with Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, which investigated the assisted-living center, said the agency was “deeply saddened” by Staub’s death.

“As soon as we were notified, we sent experts to the facility to investigate what occurred and ensure the safety of other residents,” McManis said in a statement. “Where we found deficiencies, we required the facility to quickly make changes, and closely monitored the facility until it completed all corrective actions.”

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In 2019, Staub moved into the Lavender Farms center as one of its first residents, according to the complaint. Staub grew up in Ohio and was a “devoted and loving wife, mother, and entrepreneur,” selling handmade and homegrown items to provide for her family. Her “hard work, grit and determination” were an inspiration, the family wrote in her obituary.

Staub sometimes experienced confusion, depression and memory loss, among other conditions, the complaint states. Employees at the center were aware of those conditions, it adds.

After an episode of “confusion, difficulty speaking and disorientation overnight” in November 2021 and a fall in her apartment, Staub was hospitalized and then cared for under Balfour’s “skilled nursing” program until January 2022.

Throughout that time, Balfour staff members knew that Staub was still experiencing confusion, anxiety, agitation and restlessness, the complaint says.

Then, as Staub’s health improved, her family, a nurse practitioner and Balfour staff made plans to move her back into the Lavender Farms center. Based on the nurse practitioner’s assessment, they decided Staub would be put under “Level II” care, which meant that staff would monitor her more closely.

Staub’s family was assured that she would receive safety checks every four hours between 8 pm and 6 am, according to the complaint. But Balfour did not update Staub’s care plan accordingly, the lawsuit alleviates.

On Feb. 25, the morning before Staub died, one of her daughters checked on her, the document says. Staub’s daughter had reported that her mother was confused and hallucinating, and she instructed those at the nurses’ station to “frequently check” on her mother, according to the complaint.

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That evening, a Balfour employee noted that Staub was hallucinating again, this time seeing people who were “hissing and signing at her,” the complaint states. Staub’s family and her nurse practitioner were not told about the incident, the complaint alleges.

Around 10 pm, another employee wrote that “Mary Jo is doing well,” adding that Staub had taken her medication and gone to bed.

But about two and a half hours later, Staub wandered outside the facility with her walker, wearing her pajamas, a robe, boots and gloves, the lawsuit states. The doors immediately locked behind her, and Staub kept walking through the snow around the building, it adds.

“At some point, she abandoned her walker and injured her ankle,” the complaint states.

As Staub continued, crawling on her hands and knees, she left a trail of blood behind her, the complaint says.

When she finally got to the doors near the nurses’ station, she banged on them, but no one saw her, the lawsuit states. She lay in the snow, barely moving.

Around 4:40 am, a second resident wandered outside, and the doors again locked behind her, the complaint alleviated. The woman ranks the doorbell at the nurses’ station.

It took about an hour for two employees working that night to let the unnamed resident back inside, the lawsuit claims. A few minutes later, the employees saw Staub lying outside, according to the suit. She’d been out in the cold for nearly six hours.

“Mary Jo was not rescued,” the complaint states. “She froze to death in clear view of the Lavender Farms interior security cameras while lying in front of the French doors adjacent to the nurses’ station.”

An autopsy showed that Staub died of hypothermia, according to the family’s lawsuit.

After her death, as her family tried to understand what had gone wrong, the complaint alleges that Balfour employees “fed lies and misleading statements” to investigators to “avoid criminal charges.” The complaint lists seven claims — including felonious killing, negligence resulting in wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress — against the defendants and requests a jury trial.

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